The Campaign to Protect Rural England has criticised Government plans to link financial incentives to decisions on housing development and warned that the New Homes Bonus (NHB) could prove unlawful.
It has obtained a legal opinion from planning barrister John Hobson QC which held that by linking the outcome of planning decisions to financial rewards, any decision would be “tainted” and open to question.
On that basis new housing linked to the NHB would stand a good chance of being overturned in a judicial review, CPRE said.
The charity argued that the Government’s flagship housing incentive scheme appeared to be little more than an attempt to “buy off objections to uncontrolled housing sprawl”.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE’s chief executive, said: “The final details of the NHB are a recipe for planning chaos, with potentially grave consequences for the countryside. How can any important planning decision be considered impartial and balanced when there is a big pile of cash sitting on the table? It is little more then cash for sprawl.
“The Government is on very shaky legal ground here. We foresee an upsurge in legal challenges to planning decisions. But whatever the courts might decide, local communities will feel uncomfortable to know that financial incentives are influencing planning decisions.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Until now local authorities and communities have not had the right incentives to encourage growth in their area but this will change with the New Homes Bonus, which will match the council tax on new properties and empty homes brought back into use.
“This will encourage councils to release more land for development, build strong partnerships with the private sector, work with their communities to identify the housing they need, make best use of existing stock and overcome concerns about the impact of new homes by using this funding to improve their local infrastructure and services.
“The New Homes Bonus will sit alongside the wider planning system. Local authorities are well aware that they can only take material considerations into account when assessing individual planning applications.
“The New Homes Bonus cannot change this and nor is it intended to. Local planning authorities will continue to be bound by their obligations here and must continue to ensure that their planning process is lawful."
Housing minister Grant Shapps has announced almost £200m in the first wave of cash bonuses for communities that decide to build new homes through the scheme.
He said the Government would match the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years, which for an affordable home will mean an extra £350 per house each year. He confirmed that the bonus will also apply to any empty properties brought back into use.
24 February 2011